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Post Time: Friday the 13th Quick Hits

By Gene Kershner  

   It’s still too early to start a Derby list and the trail hasn’t started to heat up just yet, so we’ll share some random thoughts as we head into a relatively quiet weekend on the racing calendar.

   The newly named NBC Sports Network (the network formerly known as Versus) seems to be taking the lead as the hockey and horse racing channel. After televising the Kentucky Oaks and Black-Eyed Susan last year, the network will pick up two Derby prep races in March. The Vinery Spiral Stakes (Mar. 24) and the Florida Derby (Mar. 31) will be televised on consecutive weekends.  Sister station CNBC will televise the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes and the Arkansas Derby on April 14.

    If you are a newbie to racing and are intimidated by the vast amounts of information and are unsure what to do once you arrive at the window, the Hello Race Fans site is for you. Devoted to educate the new fan and take the intimidation out of the picture, this website guides the newcomer to racing and teaches him/her how to wager, handicap and get the most out of a day at the races.

    A new group of racing bloggers, including yours truly, has formed and launched just before the Breeders Cup called Turf. It is made up of approximately 20 horse racing blogs that have joined together to promote racing. The group is made up blogs that specialize in a number of different categories including international racing (bloggers from Canada, France, Japan and Hong Kong are included), pedigree specialists, historians and handicappers. One Turf member is one of the best handicappers in the blogosphere, The Turk, who hails from right here in Western New York.

    Good luck to Clarence resident Kurt S. Preisigke, who has his ticket stamped for the $2 million National Handicapping Contest (NHC) to be held at Treasure Island in Las Vegas on Jan. 27 and 28. He is one of nearly 500 handicappers that qualified during the past year for a shot at the $1M first prize.

    ESPN reporter Jeannine Edwards was named the host of Monday evening’s Eclipse Awards at the Beverly Hills Wilshire. She is one of the bright spots on the screen and has covered racing since 1995. I’m looking forward to seeing how she does as the emcee of the annual thoroughbred awards show.

  The Kentucky Derby, held on the first Saturday in May, is only 112 days away. You can find the Wynn Las Vegas Future Book odds here.

   There’s a strong possibility that all three 2011 Triple Crown race winners could end up running at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 11. Derby winner Animal Kingdom is possible to make his turf debut in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap. Both Preakness winner Shackleford and Ruler On Ice are slated to run in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap, long the first big handicap dirt race on the calendar year in and year out.

   Buffalo Raceway opened its 70th racing season on Wednesday and will be running at the Hamburg oval Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays through the length of the meet with weekday post time of 5 p.m. and 6:40 on Fridays and Saturdays. There will be Thursday night racing in April and May (5 p.m. post).

Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer and handicapper who blogs at equispace.blogspot.com and tweets @EquiSpace.

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Dudley leaves again

     January 12, 1981 -- Rick Dudley came to play for the Sabres twice, and he left the Sabres twice. This is the anniversary of the second departure.

     The rugged winger was lost to the Winnipeg Jets on waivers as Dudley completed the final year of his career.

     The forward first played for the Sabres in the 1972-73 season, getting one assist in six games. He was a regular the next season, and a standout by 1974-75 when he had 70 points in  78 games for the Sabre team that made it to the Stanley Cup finals.

     However, he opted to accept a big contract with the Cincinnati Stingers of the World Hockey Association. Dudley stayed there for more than three seasons, and had more than 40 goals twice. He returned to the Sabres late in the 1978-79 season, and scored 11 points in 24 games.

     Dudley couldn't duplicate his success in Buffalo the second time around. After leaving here, he played the rest of the season in Winnipeg (10 points in 30 games) and eventually retired.

     Dudley wasn't done with hockey, though. He was coach of the Sabres for more than two years and has worked in the front office of a few teams over the years.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Farewell, Cookie

     January 11, 2011 -- Was Cookie Gilchrist only a Buffalo Bill for three years? Indeed he was. But what an impact he made, in a variety of ways.

     Gilchrist died of cancer at the age of 75. He was living outside of Pittsburgh at the time.

     The fullback was the Bills' first superstar, and one of the legends of the American Football League. He had spent six seasons in the Canadian Football League, and thus was a "rookie" when he arrived.

     During his time here he ran for more than 3,900 yards and scored 35 touchdowns. Gilchrist set the tone for a Bills' team that relied on power, offensively and defensively.

     "There was none any better than Cookie in hitting the hole from tackle to tackle," said Bills Hall of Fame guard Billy Shaw. "He would punish linebackers and defensive linemen. He would hit the blocker in front of him if he didn't get out of the way. I have scars in my back from when someone would stalemate me at the line, and here comes Cookie from behind me. He didn't care what color jersey you had on, he was going forward."

     Gilchrist had trouble getting along with others at times, and was eventually traded to Denver. On pure talent, he ranks with the greats of all time.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: The keys to the store

     January 10, 2001 -- The Bills needed a top-flight executive for their football operations, and they seemed to find one the day they hired Tom Donahoe. After all, Donahoe had done a good job with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and was ready to come here. It all seemed like the perfect marriage.

     The hiring was announced on this day, and the back story was what had happened in Pittsburgh. He lost something of a power struggle to Bill Cowher for control of the Steelers.

     It was supposed to be different here. Donahoe was given the keys to the Bills store in his new positions as team president and general manager. That was more power than he ever had on a football team before before.

      Donahoe's first big job was to hire a coach to replace Wade Phillips. The leading contenders mentioned at the time were Dom Capers, Marvin lewis and Ted Cottrell. The eventual winner, though was Gregg Williams.

     Donahoe lasted until after the 2005 season. Owner Ralph Wilson dismissed him at that point and took back the position of team president. Marv Levy was hired as the new general manager.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: On and on

     January 9, 2010 -- This was the hockey game that refused to end, which is rather surprising in a time where the NHL had a five-minute overtime and a shootout.

     The Sabres trailed the Colorado Avalanche, 3-1, in the third period. Then, Buffalo tied it on goals by Thomas Vanek and Jochen Hecht. The two teams skated through the rest of regulation and the overtime without scoring. It was on to a shootout.

     Only Milan Hejduk of Colorado and Tim Connolly of Buffalo scored in the first three rounds. Vanek and Matt Duchesne scored in the fourth round. After five straight misses, Hecht and Ryan O'Reilly exchanged goals. The teams matched goals or misses through 10 rounds.

     Finally, in round 11, Henrik Tallinder missed, and Matt Hendricks beat Lalime to give the Avalanche the win.

     "It's good entertainment," Buffalo goaltender Patrick Lalime said afterward. "It's a lot of fun. It would have been a lot more fun if we'd won."

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: A loss for the ages

   January 8, 2000 -- This was no way for a season to end.

   The Buffalo Bills had just taken a 16-15 lead over the Tennessee Titans with 16 seconds left on a 41-yard field goal by Steve Christie. The last-minute drive was engineered by quarterback Rob Johnson, who was a surprise starter over Doug Flutie. A trip to the next round seemed certain.

   Oops. Ever hear of "Home Run Throwback?" "The Music City Miracle?"

   Buffalo kicked off after the field goal. Lorenzo Neal handed the ball to Frank Wycheck, who threw a long lateral to Kevin Dyson. From there, Dyson ran 75 yards for the game-winning touchdown. It might have been the most difficult loss in Bills' history outside of Super Bowl XXV.

   "This hurts more than the three Super Bowls I was involved in," said safety Henry Jones to The News' Mark Gaughan. "The bad part about it is we felt we had the best team."

   Buffalo's football fans know the postscript to the story. The Bills haven't won a playoff game since then.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: An honor for Bruce

   January 7, 1988 -- When Bruce Smith was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the spring of 1985, he was believed to have all the potential in the world. Most first overall picks are like that. The tough part is turning potential into performance.

   Smith was a bit out of shape in his rookie year, and needed a little time to figure out the pro game. He still had 6.5 sacks. Then in year two, Smith jumped to 15 sacks but still hadn't established a reputation around the league.

   That all changed in 1987, or Year Three. Smith had 78 tackles and 12 sacks. He was capable of changing a game by merely showing up. The defensive end even chipped in with a fumble recovery for the only touchdown of his career.

   For all of that, Smith was named on this day as the AFC Defensive Player of the Year. The defensive end received a bundle of other honors, including first-team All-Pro and a trip to the Pro Bowl.

   It was up, up and away from there. Smith was picked for 11 Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro eight times. He also was the defensive player of the year for the entire NFL twice.

   You know how this story ends -- in the Hall of Fame.

--- Budd Bailey

Post Time: Eclipse Awards Jan. 16

While the 2011 racing season is behind us, the annual Thoroughbred Eclipse Awards will be handed out on Monday, January 16 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. On Thursday, the three finalists for each of the award categories were released to the public.

We’ll take a peak at some of the more prominent categories (meaning you won’t be getting any steeplechase love in this space today) and our thoughts on the potential victors.

Two-Year Old Male: Creative Cause, Hansen, Union Rags

 This is really a two-horse race between Hansen and Union Rags, wherein Hansen prevailed on the track, defeating a late closing (and drifting) Rags in the Breeders’ Cup (BC) Juvenile. The undefeated white horse should win this category with ease.  Post Time Selection: Hansen

 Two-Year Old Filly: Grace Hall, My Miss Aurelia, Stephanie’s Kitten

My Miss Aurelia blew everybody away in the BC Juvenile Fillies and was impressive at Saratoga winning the Grade 2 Adirondack and at Belmont winning the Grade 1 Frizette. No doubt that this is the easiest selection on the ballot. Post Time Selection: My Miss Aurelia

Three-Year Old Male: Animal Kingdom, Caleb’s Posse, Shackleford

A most interesting trio of horses including, the Derby, Preakness and the BC Dirt Mile winners joust for the sophomore title. Caleb’s Posse, the Dirt Mile champion, also beat Uncle Mo at the wire in the Grade 1 King’s Bishop and also won the Grade 2 Amsterdam and Grade 3 Ohio Derby. The Derby winner will get a lot of support here, with a valiant second in the Preakness and an unfortunate injury in the Belmont. However, I would lean towards Caleb’s Posse and his aggressive race schedule (10 races in 2011) and the BC victory over a talented field that included Shackleford. Post Time Selection: Caleb’s Posse

Three-Year Old Filly: It’s Tricky, Plum Pretty, Royal Delta

I sat on the plane home from Louisville after the BC, and It’s Tricky’s trainer Kiaran McLaughlin jokingly told me he hoped that “the sheikh would buy Royal Delta and take her to Dubai” so his filly didn’t have to face her again after her BC triumph. Royal Delta also added wins in the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan and Grade 1 Alabama to a very solid resume. It’s Tricky had an excellent season, but this one was decided on the track in Louisville. Post Time Selection: Royal Delta

Older Male: Acclamation, Game On Dude, Tizway

This is one of the more difficult divisions to sort out. Acclamation had a terrific year on the west coast. After a slow start, Acclamation won three Grade 1’s (including the Pacific Classic at Del Mar) and two Grade 2’s (all but the Pac Classic on turf). Game On Dude finished a gallant second in the BC Classic, won the Big Cap (Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap) and the Grade 1 Goodwood. Tizway won the Grade 1 Whitney and the Grade 1 Met Mile, two prominent East Coast races. I give the nod to Game On Dude based on the tougher competition he raced against and his strong finish in the Classic. Post Time Selection: Game On Dude

Older Female: Awesome Maria, Blind Luck, Havre de Grace

By beating males in the Grade 1 Woodward, Havre de Grace will win this division hands down and has an eye towards the Horse of the Year award, as well. While Blind Luck nosed out Havre de Grace in the race of the year (Grade 2 Delaware Handicap) in July, she didn’t win another race the rest of the year. Post Time Selection: Havre de Grace

Trainer: Bob Baffert, Bill Mott, Todd Pletcher

How good of a year did Bill Mott have in the big races? Royal Delta winning the BC Ladies’ Classic and Drosselmeyer winning the BC Classic in successive nights was quite a feat. That’s enough for me. Post Time Selection: Bill Mott

Jockey: Javier Castellano, Ramon Dominguez, John Velazquez

Easily my three favorite jockeys, so this one is difficult for me. The Saratoga riding championship and a Derby win by Johnny V is enough to sway me his way. His first Derby win on a horse he received the assignment for on the eve of the Derby shows you the kind of competitor and quality rider that he is. Post Time Selection: John Velazquez

Horse of the Year: While the three finalists are not disclosed, I suspect they will be Acclamation, Game On Dude and Havre de Grace. Since I’ve already selected the Dude over Acclamation in the Older Horse category, it looks like it’s between the filly and the dude. I’m siding with Game On Dude based on his Classic finish and his consistency throughout the year, winning the Big Cap in March, the Goodwood victory in early October and finishing ahead of Havre de Grace in the Classic. The filly had a great season and bested the expected Three-Year Old champ, Royal Delta in the Grade 1 Beldame in the slop at Belmont on Super Saturday. However, we’re siding with the Baffert-trained Game On Dude for Horse of the Year.

Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer and handicapper who blogs at equispace.blogspot.com and tweets @EquiSpace.

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Bad timing

   January 6, 1966 -- The Buffalo Bills were on the top of the American Football League after the 1965 season. They had just won their second straight championship. What could be wrong?

   Well, they needed a coach. Lou Saban had resigned to go off to coach the University of Maryland. (Note: it didn't make much sense then, either.)

   The search for a replacement took little time. Assistant coach Joel Collier was hired for the post. At 33, Collier was considered one of the brightest young minds in the game; in fact he was the youngest head coach in pro football.

   He was what would be called the defensive coordinator today, and helped create the Bills' tremendous defense. The hope was that the team wouldn't miss a beat.

   While Collier did get the Bills back into the AFL championship game in his first year, he never did as well again. The roster got old, Buffalo collapsed the following season, and Collier was gone early in the 1968 campaign.

   He went back to Denver, and reestablished his reputation as a top assistant for the rest of his career. It was along the lines of Wade Phillips, another Bills' assistant coach and head coach. But he never had the chance to improve on his career head coaching record of 13-16-1.

--- Budd Bailey 

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Honored, for a moment

   January 5, 1971 -- You could argue that Dennis Shaw had two major contributions to the Buffalo Bills in his brief career. Today marks the anniversary of the more conventional one.

   Shaw was named the NFL's rookie of the year for his work during the 1970 season. The quarterback started 12 of the team's 14 games, completed 55.5 percent of his passes and threw for 10 touchdowns. That's not Dan Marino or Matt Ryan, but it did give the Bills a little hope for the future. Shaw beat out Duane Thomas of Dallas and Ray Chester of Oakland for the award.

   Shaw started most of the games for the next two seasons as well, but never progressed. He never had more touchdown passes than interceptions. What's more, Shaw had problems getting along with his teammates according to one member of the squad.

   Eventually, Shaw lost his starting job to Joe Ferguson, which turned out to be a positive move for the team. Then came contribution number two. Shaw was traded to the Cardinals for wide receiver Ahmad Rashad. That turned out to be one of the best deals in Bills' history, even if Rashad didn't stay here for a long time.

--- Budd Bailey 

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About Sports, Ink

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey has served in a variety of roles in Buffalo sports in the past 35 years, including reporter, talk-show host, baseball announcer, public relations staffer and author. He covers the Bandits and running for The News when not working as an editor.

@WDX2BB | bbailey@buffnews.com

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